On January 28, 2013, the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, a true son of St. Dominic and St. Thomas Aquinas passed away in the Lord. Fr. Joseph Kenny, O.P. entered the Order of Preachers in the Province of St. Albert the Great in the United States in 1956 and was ordained in 1963. In 1964, he was sent to Nigeria, where he devoted the rest of his life to the missionary work of building up the Church and the Order of Preachers, and to the academic work of furthering the Catholic dialogue with Islam. In addition to his work in Nigeria, Fr. Kenny became famous throughout the world for his contributions to research on St. Thomas Aquinas and the Church Fathers by cultivating an online collection of English translations of Thomas and the Fathers. In the late Autumn of 2012, Fr. Kenny became ill while visiting his family and Dominican brothers in Washington, D.C., and he lived at the Little Sisters of the Poor Home in Washington for the last months of his life.
In this homily, delivered on August 12, 2012 at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., Fr. Kenny begins by alluding to his unusual situation of having dual citizenship as an American and Nigerian, developing from this an analogy for understanding Christ’s human and divine natures as a sort of dual citizenship. Dominicana is pleased to present this homily in the spirit of §16 of the Constitutions of the Order of Preachers: “Let the brothers reflect on and make known the teaching and achievements of those in the family of St. Dominic who have gone before them, while not forgetting to pray for them.”
At the Lagos airport passport control, I get in the Nigerian line. The security people grumble, “You don’t belong there; you are in the wrong line.” I flash my Nigerian passport, it’s smiles all around.
It’s not so everywhere. Some Latinos were clearing my nephew’s yard. Without asking, a neighbor screamed, “Illegals.” You can multiply examples. When Jesus claimed divine citizenship—“I am the bread from heaven, sent by the Father”—he met grumbles. This was after presenting an ID, bearing his Father’s hologram, the multiplication of the loaves.
Jesus, by nature a divine person, naturalized as man. He is the paragon of dual citizenship, of both heaven and earth, true God and true man. Arians object, Muslims object, Jehovah Witnesses object. Their standard argument is, “He is obviously human; therefore he is not God.” Is his mother not Mary? Did he not eat and sleep? Did he not pray to God? They enclose God in a gilded cage, like the foreign diplomats in Nigeria, who are afraid to go out, mix with the people, and enjoy the country. After all, they might catch a disease, they might get booed, they might get killed.
So, when Christ talked of his coming death, Peter reacted like a Muslim: “Subhan-Allah! This shall never happen to you” (Mt 16:22). Jesus stuck to his guns. He embraced our vulnerability. Without ever sinning, he suffered, unto death on a cross. Qui propter nos homines, et propter nostram salutem, descendit de caelis.
Why? To give us similar dual citizenship. Remaining human, we become real, not honorary citizens of heaven (Eph 2:19): “sharers of God’s nature” (1 Pet 1:4). That makes us brothers, or sisters, to Jesus—but not greater, or even equal, to our Master. Yes, humanly, he grew in wisdom and grace. Yet “in him dwells the fulness of divinity bodily” (Col 2:9). He is “God’s wisdom”; he is “God’s power” (1 Cor 1:24). He was not, as Nestorians say, a human person, with limited bandwidth, who had to download God’s truth piecemeal. If that were the case, we could find in other prophets or religions supplementary, independent revelation of what Jesus missed—“la théologie de l’autre.”
Non-Christians can amaze us, and put us to shame, by their wisdom and virtue. “I have not found such faith in Israel” (Lk 7:9), Jesus said of the centurion. But that is not “other”; it is the Spirit of Jesus, working secretly in them. “The Holy Spirit enables everyone,” says Gaudium et spes, “to share in the Paschal mystery.”
If Jesus were simply a superman, a creature, even a pre-existent one, the Eucharist would be one more gala, competing with others in entertainment and menu. But it is not an option. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (Jn 6:53).
What of those who cannot, from aborted infants to adults who know no better? Their baptism of desire, or baptism of blood, backed by implicit faith in the Redeemer, is also a communion with him by desire.
He is the living bread, our daily bread, our never-disappointing bread, the bread of the mighty (Ps 78:25). Our faith and baptism—these are our passport to his table, both on earth and in heaven.
Image by Jonathan M. Hethey